Killer Device vs Killer App

It is common wisdom that technologies are often chosen because of so-called killer applications. At the dawn of the personal computer, the killer app that made the Apple 2 palatable to those who could afford them was Visicalc, arguably the first spreadsheet. Pagemaker did the same thing for the Macintosh, as did Office for the Windows PC. And of course, porn was the killer app for every video playing device known to man, and the internet.

So, part of the too-short musings of Mike Shatzkin, Nury Vittachi and myself on The Book Show (or as a podcast) was a brief foray about the problem of standards and e-book takeup. The market, of course, will decide. But we couldn’t agree on what would cause the tipping point into mass-market acceptance of e-books. I’ve always though we’re waiting for a killer device (or screen actually); Mike made a compelling argument against a single killer device and Nuri thought that a killer app (he seemed to suggest some kind of narrative driven game) would be the Visicalc equivalent.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time – but Mike and I had a longer chat in the studio afterwards. For lovers of print, it probably seems a totally weird conversation to have – after all, paper is paper is paper. But for some of us, it’s one of the key discussions.


2 comments so far

  1. Kate Eltham on

    Hi Sherman,

    Great to find your blog. My husband brought The Book is Dead home the other day and has been stubbornly refusing to let me borrow it until he’s read it and I’ve been trying to decide whether I’m impatient enough to simply buy a second copy. So I’m very happy to at least have the blog for the time being.

    For myself, I’ve always thought this conundrum was a killer device problem. The printed book is pretty decent technology for most people and so far there isn’t a device which would make them shift their behaviour. Of course, sometimes the killer app / killer device is a chicken and egg thing. The iPod (or at least mp3 player) is ubiquitous because of the mp3 format. But music downloads didn’t really explode until convergence meant everyone had a mobile phone and eventually a mobile phone that plays mp3s.

    This is why I think growth and distribution of audio books will outstrip e-books as text in the medium term. The mp3 player is already ubiquitous. It makes the distribution of audio content easy and we have established behaviours of downloading and listening to it. The right device and the set of accompanying behaviours are not yet prevalent enough to tip the e-book.

    At the same time, convergence is almost making the device question redundant. The race to find the right e-book reader might be irrelevant. When everyone’s phone is also an mp3 player, video player, calendar, gaming machine, camera etc, how will we get them to want an additional device that only serves one function – reading text? Especially if that device is $300+?


  2. shermanfyoung on

    Hi Kate

    Thanks for the comment. Feel free to buy a second copy of the book 🙂

    You may be right about audio books in the medium term – but they require significant resources to produce, and the resulting audio files are huge – at least compared to an ebook! I’m loathe to make predictions about the future, cos I’m bound to be caught out – but I suspect the convergence thing is going to happen too. I’m conspiring to get hold of both a a Sony Reader and an iphone to compare the experiences!!

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